Anathem, by Neal Stephenson. It's like a cross between "Independence Day" and a Socratic dialogue, this is the story of the "mathic" monasteries of another world where thinkerrs and philosophers live in seclusion from the world atop 10000 year clocks in "concents". The book has everything that Stephenson does best, and eliminates many of the sloppy, meandering bad habits that he let run unfettered in his last few works. The language is a writer's playground, with words that ought to exist, but never did - and now they do. Stephenson includes dictionary entries for his made words include etymology from his created past, a nod to the wonkish obsession with philology of the great master of invented language himself, Tolken. Okay, maybe that's my observation. Anyway, the story is tight, the characters loveable and flawed, and the world in which they live absorbing, real, and thoroughly realized. It's a big doorstopper of a book, but I couldn't put it down. And unlike so many of Stephenson's works, it has a logical and satisfactory ending - so much so that I think it's a bit of a sly joke on the author's part. Best book I read all year.
Frost/Nixon: This was a big surprise for me this year, a dry topic and all talk, this turned out to be a riveting character study and duel of wills between talk show gadfly David Frost and ousted President Richard Nixon. It's been nominated for a slew of awards, and I'm sure the Oscars will treat it well, too - particularly Frank Langella who delivers a monologue as Nixon that inspired me to whisper to pyr8queen "Oscar, best actor" in the middle of it.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. Every expansion has been excellent, and this one is no exception. New class, new professions, and most importantly a new area with excellent new instances and other content. And tanks! I've only made it halfway through the new levels, but enjoyed all the quests and dungeons a lot. Blizzard listens to what players want, but rather than just take suggestions, they look at what it is they really need, and design around that. It's not just a good game, it's a lesson on how to run online entertainment for any current or future competitors.
Hulu.com has permanently changed the way people will watch TV, the same way DVR's did. It's a good execution of the concept too - watchable videos of a wide variety of shows, mostly NBC and Fox, as well as a lot of feature movies. It's what happens when youtube is made by mature companies that don't design by committee, and actually deliver what they promise instead of giving in to corporate compromise. Certainly a sign of what's to come.
The downfall of American conservativism. Brought down by a devil's deal with the Religious Right that pushed them so far beyond their fiscal values, traditional conservatives lost the plot, and lost the election. And a long time comong! Republicans today can't even agree on what it means to be a Republican, except that they're for God and guns, and against gays. I can only hope the Democrats actually DO something, which they've thus far shown neither the inclination or will to make happen. But nothing is at least better than the egregious series of foul-ups, erosion of civil liberties and misadventures of the past 8 years.
Spore: was a huge let-down. It's previews looked amazing - you start as a single-cell animal and evolve right up to a galaxy-spanning empire. But in practice, each sub-game was less-than-fun, and none of your evolutionary choices actually mattered much in subsequent stages, they could all be changed or reversed as much as wanted. In the end, the "space" stage is by far the largest part of the game, and despite promises of interacting with civilizations created by other players on the internet, in practice it was extremely repetitiave and not at all interactive. I never finished the game, it didn't seem worth bothering with.
Any of Laura Joh Rowland's "Sano Ichiro" novels: The first few were great historical fiction detective stories set in Tokugawa era Japan. They were well-written and interesting with good historical details that brought the era alive. They've devolved, however, into a howling mess of cheap-shock depravity, cartoonish characters, no focus on time and place, and lots and lots of badly written freaky-circus-sex. Apparently every samurai in Japan was homosexual or a pederast - or at least, that's the device Rowland uses to let us know that her villains are evil or weak. The only "good" characters are flaweless and endlessly noble - and boring. What a disappointment.
BattlestarGalactica: Descended into mediocrity. It was excellent when it did politics, strategy and struggle - and pathetic when it got wrapped around the axle with faux spirituality and overblown psycho-drama. And Starbuck. Soooo sick of Starbuck. The last season was lots of religion and not much of the good stuff.
Grand Theft Auto IV: It got every award a game can get, but if you ask me, it was just too darned hard. It relied too much on racing missions, and the story was impossible to advance without winning key races. It was impressive in a lot of ways - a huge sandbox, excellent voice-acting, tremendous depth of reality in its virtual New York, but in the end, because I couldn't outrun some punk on a motorcycle, I couldn't advance past about half of the game. Bad game design, even punkass players like me deserve to keep going if we want to.
Assassin's Creed: The first hour of the game was amazing, with intriguing gameplay while climbing, jumping, clambering and generally skukling through medieval cities in the Holy Land. Sadly, the story was non-sensical, and every mission was exactly like every previous mission. It would have been brilliant as a short-entry game like Portal, bundled with several others - but as a full-length stand-alone, it was very disappointing.
Heroes. Seriously, WTF happened? It doesn't even make sense anymore. It started out weak and then became intriguing by the end of its first season - but the second and third have been consistently worse, consistently more inane, and poorly written.
Cats: They do such strange things! One of the wanders into the neighbors' houses, bold as brass and eats their food. The other attacks my cashmere sweater like it's an evil, evil, evil (but very delicious) thing. C'mon cats, what's up with you?
Prop 8. It's no shock it passed, frankly. Every time gay marriage has come up on any ballot, it's been voted down. Many people (rightly) believe in freedom for all to marry as they please, but the majority of Americans do not. The effort now should not be to resolve the inequity through legislation, ballot, or judicial review - but to win hearts and minds. Those people who are against gay marriage can be persuaded to see differently, to see all people as deserving of freedom and the privileges of marriage, but it won't happen by looking down on them. Cast this struggle in the right frame, and it becomes consistent with tradiitional American values; after all, marriage has changed many times through American history, and it can be done again. But continue to make it a case of good people vs. evil bigots, and the "evil bigots" won't have much call to sympathize with the other side. It's infuriating and baffling that it's still okay to discriminate against gays, but our effort now should be to reach out, not repudiate, those with whom we disagree.
I'm sure there's more, but the day is short, and my presence is commanded elsewhere. No rest for the weary here, nor much time to ruminate! If you don't do anything else, at least read "Anathem".